In This Issue
- From Chuck’s Chair: Recess is no time for relaxation
- Upcoming Ambassador Activities: August Recess
- Dispatch from Capitol Hill: Taking care of (legislative) business in Congress
- State of Play: The latest news on National Council legislative priorities
- Advice and Counsel: Tips for your August recess meetings
- Briefly Noted: Interesting articles on our radar
From Chuck’s Chair
Dear National Council Ambassadors:
Since elementary school, we’ve thought of “recess” as a break from our normal work, a chance to relax and play before returning to the routine and focus of the classroom. But your Senators and Representatives won’t, for the most part, be relaxing during their August recess.
The August recess – especially in an election year like 2014 – is a time when legislators’ political antennae are perhaps most sensitive. Legislators will be meeting with constituents to talk about what is and is not happening in Washington, DC and, most importantly, to listen. That makes the recess a perfect opportunity for National Council Ambassadors to bring our legislative agenda to your legislator’s attention.
We’re asking every National Council Ambassador to make a connection with at least one legislator during August. Take advantage of this moment, with less than three months to Election Day, to make sure your legislator knows what’s important to you and to the community you serve. Talk to them about the challenges you face and ask for their help. Your outreach will help make sure our issues are top-of-mind as legislators return to Capitol Hill in September to complete their pre-election work and consider what issues to take action on in the post-election “lame duck” session.
As always, we’re here to help. This issue of the Ambassadors’ Brief includes some important information and useful tips for August meetings. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about how to set up your meetings and what to talk about.
Thank you for all that you do every day.
Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Practice Improvement
Upcoming Ambassador Activities
August: Congressional Recess
When: Today through September 7, 2014
Where: Your hometown
By the time you read this, Members of Congress will have quit Washington and gone home for the August recess. We’ve asked each Ambassador to take the time to meet with at least one of your U.S. Senators or Representative during the recess. There are many ways you can accomplish this objective. Check out the Ambassadors’ portal for tools and resources.
Dispatch from Capitol Hill
The final months of the 113th Congress are winding down, but much unfinished legislative business remains on the table. How much will lawmakers be able to accomplish before the end of the year? And what does this mean for your advocacy efforts in the remainder of 2014?
During each two-year session of Congress, more than 10,000 bills are introduced. Just under half of them will receive a hearing or vote in committee, and fewer than 300 will become eventually become law. That’s only 2 percent of the total number of bills introduced!
What’s more, the current Congress is on track to become the least productive (in terms of number of bills passed) since World War II.
Lawmakers’ efforts to pass legislation will be further complicated this year by the upcoming midterm elections. With the entire House and one-third of the Senate up for election or re-election in November, candidates are jockeying for optimal position in their races and will be reluctant to take hard votes on big issues ranging from immigration reform to the annual budget.
But, just because Congress isn’t about to whiz through all 10,000 bills on its docket in the next few months doesn’t mean this isn’t an important time for advocacy. Here’s why:
Bills don’t ride alone. Most of the legislation before Congress doesn’t have to pass under any immediate timeframe. But some legislation – think the annual budget, or the soon-to-expire Export-Import Bank – does. When one bill MUST move, it creates opportunities for other bills to hop on board and ride the “vehicle” to passage (that’s what happened when the Excellence in Mental Health Act demo passed in March as part of a Medicare physician pay bill). Your continued advocacy during the summer and fall will help position our legislative agenda to be attached to another moving vehicle.
There’s always another inning. Unlike in sports, when the clock winds down on a congressional session, it simply starts back up again in January with a new crop of legislators and all-new bills. The more support a bill gained in the previous session of Congress, the better positioned it is for re-introduction and gaining additional support in the upcoming session. So, keep working those cosponsorship requests!
Surprises can still happen. Current events or a sudden upswing in public attention can sometimes propel a bill to passage. You’ve heard the old adage, “success is when preparation meets opportunity.” Every contact you make with a Member of Congress helps prepare us to take advantage of opportunities for legislation to move, when they arise.
State of Play
Mental Health First Aid Act. Three new House cosponsors have signed on to the Mental Health First Aid Act. Are you meeting with Reps. Chaka Fattah (PA-2), Adam Schiff (CA-28), or Sam Farr (CA-20) during the August recess? Be sure to start your meeting by thanking them for their support!
Behavioral Health IT Act. Three new House cosponsors and one Senator have joined the Behavioral Health IT Act. If you’re meeting with Reps. Grace Meng (NY-6), Ed Pastor (AZ-7), or John Tierney (MA-6) or Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) during the August recess, don’t forget to thank them for supporting this important bill.
Substance Use Funding and Other 2015 Appropriations Priorities. The Senate Appropriations Committee last month released online its recommendations for healthcare appropriations in 2015. The committee proposals include level funding or small cuts to SAMHSA-funded programs. Note that these recommendations were not voted on and approved by the full committee as would be done during a typical appropriations process, an indicator of just how fraught with difficulty the appropriations process has been this year. Read more on Capitol Connector.
Advice and Counsel
In this issue, we provide tips on scheduling your August recess meeting with your Senator or Representative – including a step-by-step guide for attending a town hall meeting, instructions for giving us feedback on how your meeting went, and more.
The simplest way to get started is to attend an already-scheduled event at which you know your Senator or Representative will be speaking and taking questions.
- Visit your legislator’s website to find a list of town hall meetings or similar events, or call the district office to ask when he or she will be holding such sessions close to you. If there is an opportunity to register for the event, please do so to be sure staff knows you will be there.
- Prepare a question in advance and be prepared to ask it when the opportunity presents itself. Your question should not be confrontational but it should be specific enough so that the legislator will need to provide a helpful answer.
- Be sure to sign in when you arrive at the meeting, and provide your organizational affiliation (if relevant) and contact information. We want your legislator to know you were there and to begin to see you as a resource on behavioral health and substance use issues.
- Connect with staff if you are unable to ask your question due to time limitations, and let them know you’ll be e-mailing with your query.
- Bring business cards and, if given the opportunity, hand them to the legislator and any staffers you are able to meet.
- Let us know how the meeting went by filling out our simple online form. Legislators want to know that we’re connected to their constituents, and your feedback helps us do more for you on Capitol Hill.
Town hall meetings aren’t the only way to meet with your legislators during the recess. You can also connect with them in a one-on-one meeting, a site visit at your organization, a brief encounter at a local festival or event, or anywhere else you see them. Keep in mind that at any encounter with your legislator, you should be prepared with a question and should thank them for anything they’ve already done to support mental health and substance use treatment. And don’t forget to send us your brief report on how the meeting went.
Not sure what to talk about? You can find our talking points and fact sheets on our major legislative issues on the Ambassadors Resource page. Consider bringing a printed copy of the fact sheet(s) for your legislator to keep, along with any information about your organization.
More tips on setting up an August recess meeting are available here.
Here are a few thought-provoking articles and resources that we’ve come across recently. Happy reading!
Congress Adjourns as Election Anxieties Mount – Former Senator John Sununu (NH) shares why campaign season is like the proverbial box of chocolates in the film “Forrest Gump”: You never know what you’re going to get. Read more.
Congressional Dysfunction – Vox.com’s Ezra Klein takes a deep dive into Congressional gridlock with a series of posts analyzing Congress’ popularity, productivity, and polarization. Is money the problem? How about the filibuster? Read more.